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Hawaii Gov. David Ige and his Republican challenger, state Rep. Andria Tupola, both accomplished what they set out to do during their first televised debate Monday night.
Not known for his debating prowess, Ige comfortably held his own during the hour-long KHON special, which included segments featuring the lieutenant governor candidates and covered everything from homelessness and health care to gun safety and fiscal prudence.
The debate gave Ige the chance to tie Tupola to President Donald Trump, which he did several times.
And the format gave Tupola the opportunity to be on equal footing with the governor as an underdog in the race who lacks the campaign funds to reach large amounts of potential voters through TV ads like Ige can.
“We can’t afford another four years of the current direction,” she said.
Ige noted that Tupola replaced Rep. Beth Fukumoto as House minority leader after Fukumoto publicly criticized Trump for his sexist and racist remarks. And the Democratic governor pressed Tupola on what federal policies, if any, she would disagree with Trump on.
Tupola said the Fukumoto “incident” wasn’t due to differences on Trump, but about providing “clear leadership.”
It wasn’t until the debate moderator, Gina Mangieri, asked Tupola again what Trump policies she would oppose that she provided a couple of hypothetical examples, such as federal money being cut for Native Hawaiians or individual rights being threatened.
Ige underscored how his administration has challenged the president’s “archaic” positions on health care, immigration and women’s reproductive rights, saying they are not in line with the values of Hawaii residents.
There were no major gaffes or huge zings. Both candidates presented themselves well and hit their talking points.
Tupola hammered Ige for leaving half a billion dollars in federal money on the table, in part by not acting fast enough to utilize it, and called him out for not fighting for more funding to offset the state’s cost of providing health care for immigrants.
Ige fired back with a request to see a full accounting of that money because he said no such thing happened. He pointed at the state having its highest bond rating ever, which saves millions of dollars in borrowing costs.
Tupola had pressured Ige for weeks to debate her on six islands. He initially ducked those requests, but eventually agreed to the debate Monday, as well as another appearance shortly before the Nov. 6 election.
Republican Marissa Kerns, a far-right supporter of President Trump, is seen as a liability for the more moderate Tupola. So there was some reluctance to put her on a big public platform against Ige’s Democratic running mate, the seasoned state Sen. Josh Green.
Ige and Tupola had quite different responses when asked how they would work with their lieutenant governor if elected.
Tupola welcomed how Kerns “challenges my thought” and makes her a better elected official as a result. She said the GOP ticket features “two strong minority women.”
Ige said he would look to Green’s areas of expertise and empower him to work on those issues he is most passionate about, particularly homelessness and the islands’ physician shortage.
Kerns, a small business owner, said her top priority would be stopping the Honolulu rail project. She called the project, which is billions of dollars over budget, a boondoggle and said the portion that’s already completed should be recycled or “maybe throw it in the ocean.”
Green, a medical doctor who’s served in the Legislature since 2005, said it would be a shame to waste all the time and money that’s already been spent on the 20-mile rail line to connect Kapolei and Ala Moana.
The LG candidates were both asked where they saw themselves in four years if elected, given the post’s proven ability to launch politicians into higher office.
“I don’t have any aspirations beyond these four years,” Green said.
Kerns, who repeated Trump’s 2016 line about the need to “drain the swamp,” said she wants to be an inspector general in four years, although she didn’t say what she’d be inspecting.
With absentee ballots already in the mail, the race is shaping up to be mostly a ground game for Tupola while Ige deploys his extensive resources.
Tupola has had to rely on social media and neighborhood rallies to get her message out. All of which Ige is also doing while benefitting from incumbency and fat campaign coffers.
Tupola only had $11,700 cash on hand as of Aug. 11, compared to Ige’s $207,000 — and that was after he spent $2.5 million to make it through the primary.
Ige has a $150,000 contract with Chicago-based Snyder Pickerill Media Group to run video ads starting Tuesday. And he had about $18,000 in radio ads set to run this week.
Tupola has reported about $2,500 in ad buys since the primary, but they already ran. She didn’t have any others on the books as of Monday, according to her electioneering statements filed with the Campaign Spending Commission.
While Ige continues to hold fundraisers — his third since the primary is Tuesday — Tupola hasn’t held one since June 30, according to her filings with the commission.
Her next fundraiser is Saturday in Waimanalo, according to her campaign website. Suggested donations are $25. Ige’s last fundraiser sought donations between $1,000 and the maximum $6,000 that’s legally allowed.
Tupola and Ige will debate again at 9 p.m. Oct. 29 on KITV.
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